Slow Reading

I want to “linger, to dally, to take pleasure in tarrying” over Elizabeth Freeman’s concept of slow reading. Indeed, I want to read slowly, to take time, to take my time.

Ever since the advent of New Criticism in the 1920s, there has remained an emphasis in literary studies on close reading. Whilst I do not want to dismiss this invaluable practice, it is important to note that “close reading” is a spatial metaphor, which suggests a proximity to the text, a lack of distance. Close reading can imply intimacy, proximity, an attempt to be with and bring the text into touch. But, in certain pedagogical settings, the phrase “close reading” can also appear coldly analytic, calling forth the image of furrowed brows and bent heads trying to exhaust the text and its “meanings.” In Time Binds, Freeman retains the phrase “close reading,” but she also opens up the idea of slow reading. This temporal emphasis gives us leave to enjoy the indulgence of delaying, of taking time with a text, of lingering, dallying and tarrying. Indeed, slow reading allows us, in however small a way, “to resist the commodity-time of speedy manufacture.” Through slow reading, we can pause and enjoy, as well as focus on and scrutinize, texts. In contrast to close reading, then, slow reading figures a form of temporal experience as well as a type of practice. It implies both luxury and pleasure, a sense of leisurely purpose and patient attention.

Pablo Picasso, La Lecture,, accessed 8 June 2014.
Pablo Picasso, La Lecture,, accessed 8 June 2014.

The connotations of Freeman’s slow reading in fact subtly invite us to pay more attention to a text’s temporal complexities. As a temporal experience itself, slow reading offers us the time to revel in a text’s many temporal layers – extradiegetic, diegetic – and appreciate the temporal redirections created through analepsis and prolepsis, elliptical gaps and untimely holes. Indeed, slow reading is more suitable than close reading as a critical method when it comes to analyzing the text’s own speed and rhythms, its temporal loops and turns; the phrase “slow reading” conjures the very temporal quality required to appreciate the time(s) of a text, its pauses and temporal drags. Ultimately, then, Freeman’s Time Binds encourages us to drag along and slow down, to read slowly and luxuriate in the moment and the moments of (close) reading.

Moreover, intimacy requires time and by reading slowly we give ourselves the time necessary to bind ourselves closely to the body of the text. By allowing ourselves to dally and linger, we can indulge in textual sensuality. Reading slowly enables us then to become intimate with the text, to bond with the text; it allows us to encounter the other, as well as to encounter the fractured, bound and unbound reading “self.” By reading slowly, we can encounter the body – the corpus – of the text. We can become entangled and touched by it as long as we are prepared to dally and linger with it and in it. Through reading slowly, we put ourselves at risk with the (textual) other.

As well as introducing the idea of slow reading, Freeman’s Time Binds revivifies and revitalizes the classic critical-theoretical division of work and text. Thinking in terms of chrononormativity, we can see the division of work and text as joined and separated by a bind. Works, physical books, are bound: they are glued, sewn or stitched (or even plastically packaged as “e-readers”), and their binding as products can be seen as a capitalistic, normative ‘way to manage excess’, that is, the excess of the text. Indeed, the text is the ‘rebound effect’ of literary production, and through reading slowly, we can experience better perhaps the text of excess as opposed to the managed, controlled, bound work. As readers – especially as slow readers – we can un-bind the work, open it up and take pleasure in lingering with it. Unbinding allows us to open up to the text’s rhythms (and our own), to create a complex temporal experience. We can, and do, also re-bind the text in our own ways. But we can never bind it fully – the text as opposed to the work will always have its remainder, its excesses, however often it is re-bound.

Job Koelewijn, Untitled (Lemniscaat), 2005, accessed 8 June 2014.
Job Koelewijn, Untitled (Lemniscaat), 2005, accessed 8 June 2014.

Freeman’s idea of excess also revitalizes, re-packages and rebinds the concept of intertextuality. Taking up one of the central concepts in Time Binds, we can see intertextuality as a form of “temporal drag.” As temporal drag, intertextuality creates the ‘retrogression, delay, and the pull of the past on the present’ of the text, and we can appreciate how ‘the undertow [created by intertextuality] is a constitutive part of the wave; [how] its forward movement is also a drag back’. As Freeman argues of close reading itself, intertextuality also “resists any easy translation into present-tense terms, any ‘progressive’ program for the turning of art into a cultural/historical magic bullet or toxin;” it is ‘a way into history, not a way out of it, and itself a form of historiography and historical analysis’. Intertextuality, then, can be seen as a form of erotohistoriography, which “does not write the lost object into the present so much as encounter it already in the present, by treating the [textual] present itself as hybrid.” Intertexts are not fully present in the text; they do not have simple, easily identifiable temporal or spatial locations. Rather, they are dispersed, reencountered in the (difficult and complex) present – presence – of the text, and text and intertexts bind and unbind one another, continuously renegotiating their relationships.

As a form of erotohistoriography, then, intertextuality offers the reader “a tactile meeting.” The reader acts upon the text(s) “as a finger that in stitching, both touches and is touched . . . pokes and caresses the holes in the … text even as it sutures them.” Lingering with the text, we experience the pleasures of fingering, of working and teasing the text, unweaving and reweaving slowly its (inter)textuality. Reading slowly, as Time Binds reminds us, is a tactile, sensual encounter. Through slow reading, we finger the stitch of the text(ile), co-producing and caressing its intertextual holes, opening up its present, past, lost objects. Reading slowly – as well as closely – allows us to linger and luxuriate with texts in an unbound and endlessly re-binding excessive encounter.

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